WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE-COMMON LAW ACTION-ASBESTOS

January 11th, 2023 by Rieders Travis in Workers' Compensation

Shellenberger v. Kreider Farms, 2023 Pa. Super. LEXIS 1 (January 4, 2023) (Bender, P.J.E.)  Chapter 14 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency sets forth the rules which determine the liability of a master to a servant, or an employer to an employee. “In creating and maintaining the conditions of employment, the master has a duty to his servants to have precautions taken which reasonable care, intelligence and regard for the safety of his servants require.” Restatement (Second) of Agency § 493 (1958). We agree with Appellant that Appellees must be held to a heightened duty of care. As employers, Appellees owed their employees, including Mr. Shellenberger, a duty to protect them not only from known dangers, but also from those which might be discovered with reasonable care. See Gutteridge, 804 A.2d at 656Geier, 153 A.3d at 1199Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. j. (1965). Moreover, Appellees had a duty to their employees to create and maintain a safe work environment, conforming to the conduct of an ordinary, prudent person who has special knowledge as a person experienced in the business. See Restatement (Second) of Agency §§ 493493 cmt. a.495 (1958). This includes taking steps to protect their employees from conditions likely to cause them harm. See id. at § 495. Additionally, Appellees were required to have knowledge of generally known scientific discoveries, to take care to ascertain facts which would indicate danger to their employees, and to take appropriate action if discovered. See id. at §§ 495 cmt. c.; 496 cmt. a. Having determined that Appellees, as a matter of law, owed a heightened duty to exercise reasonable care to protect Mr. Shellenberger from the hazards of asbestos contained on the worksite, the relevant question then becomes whether Appellees knew or should have known of such hazards. We agree with the trial court that the record is lacking evidence to prove that, during the relevant time period of Mr. Shellenberger’s exposure, Appellees had actual knowledge that asbestos posed a danger to their employees’ health. However, we believe the record before the trial court contained sufficient evidence from which a jury could have concluded that Appellees should have known of the dangers of asbestos. We believe that Appellant presented sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact that Appellees’ failure to protect Mr. Shellenberger from exposure to asbestos constituted a breach of the duty they owed him as their employee. Accordingly, this issue should have been submitted to the jury, and we conclude that summary judgment was inappropriate

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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